Virginia Cooperative Extension celebrates 100 years of helping people
By Lori Greiner
Since the 1914 Smith-Lever Act established the national Cooperative Extension System, Virginia Cooperative Extension has delivered the knowledge and resources of the state’s two land-grant universities — Virginia Tech and Virginia State University — to the people.
Society and its issues have changed during the past 100 years, but Extension’s mission has never wavered.
“We still work with people where they live and deal with the issues they face every day. We help them use the knowledge from the land-grant universities to improve their quality of life and economic prosperity,” said Edwin Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “The biggest difference between now and then is that today’s issues are much more complex.”
Today, Extension stretches well beyond the fields and kitchens of rural Virginia. Faculty members in 107 county and city offices conduct programming in classrooms, at workplaces, and online. In 2013, they reached more than
2.6 million participants statewide.
Sarah Burkett, senior family and consumer sciences agent in Pulaski County, Virginia, sees firsthand the challenges people are facing. In a typical week, Burkett conducts more than 10 educational programs for children and adults.
Burkett and other agents enlist the help of volunteers to further Extension’s reach. Nearly 30,000 people volunteered in 2013, contributing more than 966,000 hours of service valued at $23.7 million.
Among them is Andy Hullender, a bank manager and Master Financial Education volunteer from Dublin, Virginia. Hullender particularly likes teaching programs that tie financial education with nutrition.
“Finances and health go hand in hand,” he said.
While Extension expands its knowledge base to address economic, environmental, and social concerns, agriculture remains at its core.
Cattle producers such as Joey Davenport, who manages a 200-head cow-calf operation in Washington County, Virginia, for Bill Hayter Farms, say they rely on Extension’s programs, such as the Master Cattleman Course, to provide relevant industry information.
“If it weren’t for Extension, I’d be lost,” Davenport said. “Extension remains the go-between that brings research and new developments to the field.”
Perhaps no other component of Extension has greater impact than its 4-H programs for young people.
Through hands-on experiences, youth develop their abilities to make good decisions, manage resources, work effectively, and communicate successfully.
“4-H has helped me gain leadership skills,” said Kate Belcher of Abingdon, Virginia, a first-year student majoring in animal and poultry sciences and agribusiness. Belcher has been involved with 4-H for 13 years and is a past president of the Virginia State 4-H Cabinet.
Jones believes that educating youth is at Extension’s core.
“Our programs help prepare Virginia’s youth to take on today’s challenges and contribute to their communities,” he said.
According to Jones, those challenges will continue to get more complicated, but through Extension’s access to cutting-edge research and a network of more than 3,000 local offices across the country, the organization will be able to find answers to issues and shape solutions.
“As long as we continue to listen to our clients at the grassroots level, we will be genuine in developing programs that address those needs,” said Jones.
For more information on the history of Extension visit www.ext.vt.edu.